By S.E. Thomas
I used to be fat. There’s your headline. I have the pictures to prove it, but I don’t like to advertise them. There’s something innately unappealing about displaying images of your body like you were a sideshow. Before and After feel like codes for Freak and Freak in Disguise. And if you don’t believe me about that, odds are you’ve never been the freak.
I’d love to write a body-positive article about the health-and-happiness benefits of exercise, and maybe I’ll be there someday, but right now, that article would be too dishonest. The Before and Afters in my mind are too confusing, fraught with too many negative associations. Yes, I love exercising; it’s frequently the highlight of my day. But I wasn’t born loving exercise--I got there the hard way. I got there by building a cocoon out of my misery and disappearing inside it until my body was different enough to start over. And as much as that new body loves exercise, it still remembers the pain my old body felt. It remembers it, and some days sits in fearful wait of its return.
It can be almost impossible to talk about my weight loss at all. Most of the time, I think of my Before as almost a separate person--someone whose memories I share but who holds no sway over my current decisions. I’m sure I’m not the only After who feels this way, but I’m also sure a lot of Afters don’t have the extreme sense of separation that I do. When I was my Before, it wasn’t just the weight that was different. I had severe depression issues for years, I hated trying to meet new people, I hated even leaving the house because I’d have to interact with people, and for most of that time, money was almost unworkably tight.
In college, I was a 250-pound clinically depressed woman who had to work at least 25 hours a week on top of a full load of classes at one of the hardest universities in the country, in a state that was more than 900 miles away from my nearest family member. The little money I earned barely kept me afloat, and my schedule left me little time and even less energy for much of a social life. And the discomfort I felt about my body turned the few parties I attended into difficult affairs at best. For the most part, I was invisible. People tended to look past me, not at me. And the few times they did look at me, I felt like a zoo animal, on display for all the normal people to gawk at. So, in general, my Before hated parties.
My After loves parties. My After has graduated, works in an office, has spare time and money and energy. My After likes short dresses and coming up with new eye makeup color combinations. My After likes talking to clerks at grocery stores and walking outside just to be outside, just to be around people. She feels depressed sometimes, but it’s not her resting state. She travels in a large social circle and she expands it all the time. She went to Japan for two weeks in September and it didn’t wipe out her bank account. She lives the life my Before could only dream about.
So how do I begin to tell people about my Before and After? And who do I tell them I am? I walk around like I’m only my After, but if I were only my After, I wouldn’t be able to remember my Before. I walk around like my After because it’s easier to be her, because she’s happier and simpler. But underneath her, something else still stirs. Underneath her, I still have moments that belong to my Before. When I feel sad, I panic that the depression might come back. When I feel too tired to work out, I panic that I might never feel good enough to work out again. When I eat anything greasy or sugary, I see an image of my Before and a wave of over-enthusiastic self-hatred comes over me. I have days where I can’t let myself consume more than 800 calories because I simply cannot abide the thought of it. And that’s not coming from my Before or my After, but from some other self I can’t capture in a photograph.
So who am I? I’m not my Before and I’m not my After, but I’m not exactly both either. I’m some complicated in-between, and I don’t have a word for it yet.
I used to be fat. There’s your headline. I’ll tell you what it means as soon as I know.